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One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy and an influential authority on counterinsurgency strategy warns that the White House is dangerously shortchanging efforts to create a viable Afghan Army. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, says he is worried that the Obama administration’s commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasn’t given enough emphasis in the president’s AFPAK strategy announcement speech a few days earlier (see March 27, 2009). Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington, Nagl asserts, “The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan National Army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not.” He adds that the Afghan National Army, as the country’s most respected institution, must be expanded to 250,000 troops, which closely resembles a reported Pentagon plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 260,000 troops (see March 18, 2009). Nagl refers to Obama’s troop increase and trainer push as a “down payment” on what’s needed to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan. [Military.com, 4/3/2009]
A new neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI—see Before March 25, 2009) holds a conference entitled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success.” The focus will be, according to the organization’s website, a push to escalate US military efforts in that nation. The featured speaker is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the 2008 presidential candidate and a close friend of two of FPI’s founders, William Kristol and Robert Kagan. In February, McCain gave a speech at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) arguing for a new military “surge” in Afghanistan. Other speakers include AEI fellow Frederick Kagan, counterinsurgency expert Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, and Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), a foreign policy hawk. [Inter Press Service, 3/25/2009; Foreign Policy Initiative, 3/31/2009] Matt Duss of the Center for American Progress wryly observes: “[G]iven the heavy representation of Iraq war advocates [in the conference], I think a far better title would be ‘Afghanistan: Dealing With The Huge Problems Created By Many Of The People On This Very Stage.’ The broad consensus among national security analysts and aid officials is that the diversion of troops and resources toward Iraq beginning in 2002 was one of the main reasons the Taliban and al-Qaeda were able to to re-establish themselves in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas, facilitating the collapse of the country back into insurgent warfare. Having failed to complete the mission in Afghanistan, Bush and the Iraq hawks handed the Obama administration a war that promises to be as difficult and costly as Iraq has been—if not more. It’s deeply absurd that some of the people most responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan would now presume to tell us how to deal with it.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
Air Force, Navy, and other coalition warplanes drop a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during this month. Warplanes release a record 438 bombs according to Air Forces Central (AFCent) figures, marking the fourth consecutive month of increasing bomb drops. The Navy Times reports that the munitions are released during 2,110 close-air support sorties, and that the total number of air strikes is even higher because the AFCent numbers do not include attacks by helicopters and special operations gun ships. The numbers also do not include strafing runs or small missile launches. [Navy Times, 5/4/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardons five convicted drug traffickers who in 2007 were caught in military uniforms transporting over 100 kg of heroin in a police truck and sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. One of the released men is the nephew of a powerful Afghan politician who heads Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign in 2009. A spokesman for Karzai will later confirm the pardons. The spokesman, Siyamak Herawi, explains that Karzai ordered the release of the five men only after the customary intercession of tribal chiefs. “The tribal chiefs had sought their release and the president… acquitted them,” he will say. One of the pardoned men is Bilal Wali Mohammad, the aforementioned nephew of Haji Din Mohammad, the powerful politician who will later resign his post as Kabul governor to become Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign manager. Spokesman Herawi will also claim that the pardons are not linked with the 2009 election or Haji Din Mohammad’s position. At the time of his arrest, Bilal was working as the personal secretary for his cousin, Haji Zahir, commander of the border police in Takhar, a province that borders Tajikistan and serves as a conduit for drugs to Europe. In fact, all five pardoned traffickers were employed by Zahir at the time of their arrest. Reuters adds that Bilal belongs to a powerful family from eastern Afghanistan, and that one of his brothers served as a deputy to Karzai before he was assassinated in 2002. The Boston Globe will report that by July 2009, Karzai has ordered the release of at least 10 convicted drug traffickers since he began pardoning drug traffickers this month. Records seen at the Afghan attorney general’s office suggest that the total figure is almost certainly far higher. [Boston Globe, 7/3/2009; Reuters, 7/9/2009]
A deputy to Richard Holbrooke meets with a representative of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to discuss the role his group, Hizb-i-Islami (HIA) could play in ending the Afghan conflict, according to Afghan media. The HIA is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Hekmatyar has a reported $25 million price on his head. The meeting is held with Hekmatyar emissary Daud Abedi. The US-Hekmatyar meeting is the most recent in a series of meetings and negotiations reportedly involving Hekmatyar representatives and the Afghan government, Taliban representatives, and the Saudis, inter alia (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008 and February 2009). [Daily Telegraph, 4/8/2009]
Withdrawal of Foreign Troops a Top Priority - In an interview with Asia Times reporter and analyst Syed Saleem Shahzad, Mr Abedi will recount the meeting, which he describes as positive, adding that he participated on his own initiative, was given Hekmatyar’s approval, and did not involve Pakistani officials. Abedi will not name the US official(s) he met because the talks are, he explains, ongoing. He says a ceasefire is possible in Afghanistan once talks are concluded and an exact schedule for the earliest possible departure of foreign troops is known: a top priority for the HIA. “I know what the HIA wants and what the Taliban wants in order to see if we could make a situation possible in which foreign troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he will say. Abedi denies that there is any chance the HIA will join the Afghan government in the near future. Insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar hold complete command over Kapissa province’s Tagab valley, only 30 kilometers north of Kabul. Syed Saleem Shahzad will suggest that the HIA, whose political wing has offices all over Afghanistan and keeps 40 seats in the Afghan parliament, is fully geared to replace President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections. [Asia Times, 4/10/2009]
Deep Ties to Major Players in Region - Hekmatyar, among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords, has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984), 1983, and (see March 13, 1994).
A day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. [New York Times, 4/2/2009]
President Obama receives approval from NATO leaders on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Obama in turn heralds commitments from NATO allies, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more trainers and police to Afghanistan is “a strong down payment” toward securing the country. Obama is echoing a phrase delivered by counterinsurgency guru, retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a week earlier (see March 31, 2009). At the NATO meeting, leaders pledge to send 3,000 more troops on short-term assignments to boost security for the scheduled elections in Afghanistan on August 20, and some 2,000 additional personnel to train growing Afghan security forces. They also promise to send 300 paramilitary police trainers and provide $600 million to finance the Afghan Army and civilian assistance, according to Obama. He adds that these figures should not be considered a ceiling, suggesting that more could be sought at some point in the future. “We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he states. [Reuters, 4/4/2009; Associated Press, 4/4/2009]
Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, tells the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview that Washington’s commitment to equipping and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) falls short of expectations. “It was a big surprise” when the president made his announcement, he remarks. Wardak says that President Obama’s announced plan to raise 134,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and 82,000 National Police by 2011 (see March 27, 2009) is not an overall increase in numbers or pacing, explaining that those targets had been planned for months. Wardak says he was expecting a much more rapid increase of combined forces to between 400,000 and 450,000 in number. Similar numbers were floated by US military and NATO sources in earlier reports (see March 18, 2009, April 2, 2009, and March 24, 2009). Furthermore, Gen. Wardak says he has repeatedly asked the US and NATO for help in getting more and better equipment, but to no avail. “At the moment we are still lighter than light infantry,” Wardak says. “I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets” in the 1980s. [Council on Foreign Relations / CFR.org, 4/16/2009]
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]
Al Jazeera, the Arab news outlet, reports that US soldiers in Afghanistan may have been encouraged to proselytize the message of Christianity to native Afghani citizens, who are largely Muslim. Bibles written in Pashto and Dari, the country’s main languages, are also apparently being distributed by military chaplains. Al Jazeera has obtained video footage from Brian Hughes, a former soldier who shot documentary footage in Bagram during 2008. The film shows Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, the highest-ranking chaplain in Afghanistan, telling soldiers that as followers of Jesus Christ, they all have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him.” Hensley told the soldiers: “The special forces guys—they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down.… Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.” Other footage shows Sergeant Jon Watt, who was then training to become a chaplain, giving thanks for the work that his church has done in getting Bibles printed and sent to Afghanistan. In the film, Watt told a Bible study class: “I also want to praise God because my church collected some money to get Bibles for Afghanistan. They came and sent the money out.” It is uncertain whether the Bibles were ever distributed, but Hughes notes that none of the people he filmed spoke either Pashto or Dari. “They weren’t talking about learning how to speak Dari or Pashto, by reading the Bible and using that as the tool for language lessons,” Hughes says. “The only reason they would have these documents there was to distribute them to the Afghan people. And I knew it was wrong, and I knew that filming it… documenting it would be important.” US CENTCOM regulations expressly forbid “proselytizing of any religion, faith, or practice.” In the film, the chaplains seem to have found a way around that regulation. “Do we know what it means to proselytize?” Captain Emmit Furner, a military chaplain, says to a gathering of soldiers. “It is General Order Number One,” an unidentified soldier replies. Watt interjects, “You can’t proselytize but you can give gifts.” Watt also mentions distributing Bibles during his service in Iraq. [Al Jazeera, 5/4/2009]
Mohammad Qasim Fahim. [Source: Ozier Muhammad / New York Times]President Hamid Karzai formally registers as a candidate for re-election, choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim—a powerful warlord accused of human rights abuses and criminality—as one of his vice presidential running mates, just hours before leaving for meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Zadari. Human rights groups immediately condemn the selection of Fahim, who was a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during Afghanistan’s 1990s civil war, a Northern Alliance intelligence chief, a former interim vice president, and defense minister.
Human Rights Watch: Choice a "Terrible Step Backwards for Afghanistan" - Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Karzai is “insulting the country” with the choice. “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009] General Fahim was one of the chief Jamiat-e-Islami commanders under Ahmed Shah Massoud. A 2005 HRW report, “Blood-Stained Hands,” found that “credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Fahim, who was among those “directly implicated in abuses described in this report, including the 1993 Afshar campaign.” [Human Rights Watch, 7/6/2005]
Afghan Civil Society Responds - Fahim served as Karzai’s first vice president in Afghanistan’s interim government set up after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion. During the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket. Aziz Rafiee, the executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum says that Karzi’s pick begs a question. “If (Fahim) was a good choice, why did (Karzai) remove him [in 2004]?” Rafiee asks. “And if he was a bad choice, why did he select him again? The people of Afghanistan will answer this question while voting.” According to Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political columnist and the editor in chief of the Afghan newspaper 8 a.m., Fahim could be an issue for Western countries invested in Afghanistan’s success. “Perhaps if Karzai wins the election Western countries are going to use this point as an excuse and limit their assistance to Afghanistan,” he says. “This is also a matter of concern for all human rights organizations who are working in Afghanistan and working for transitional justice.”
US Response Evasive - The US Embassy does not comment on the choice, saying it is not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. However, the US does issue the following statement: “We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, Jamiat-e-Islami, Hamid Karzai, Afghan Civil Society Forum, Afghan Government, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Aziz Rafiee, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Bryce Lefever, a former military psychologist who worked with the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, says the techniques reverse-engineered from the program and used to torture terrorism suspects in US custody are justified. Lefever has worked with two military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, since 1990, developing techniques for SERE training. That training helps prepare US soldiers to resist torture if they are captured by enemy forces and interrogated. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the torture program of interrogation used by the US against suspected terrorists (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, and Mid-April 2002). Lefever himself served as a military psychologist at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where prisoners were routinely tortured and brutalized.
Patriots - Unlike many critics who have attacked the psychologists’ lack of ethics and concern, Lefever calls Mitchell and Jessen patriots. “I think the media ought to give us a big ol’ thank you for our efforts on behalf of America,” Lefever says. “There should be some recognition of the effort—the really extreme effort—that we’ve gone through to help.”
Ethically Compelled to Construct Torture Program - Lefever says the criticism of Mitchell and Jessen is unfounded and stems from a basic misunderstanding of the ethical mission of psychologists. “[T]he idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm,’” he says, but “the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people.” Because torturing a “few” prisoners might well produce intelligence that would help prevent another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, Lefever says, it was incumbent on Mitchell, Jessen, and himself to use their knowledge of SERE tactics to construct an interrogation program that might elicit such actionable intelligence. “America’s house was broken into on 9/11 and someone had to raise their hand to stop it,” he says. “And early on there was a sense of desperation in intelligence-gathering.” Lefever has no doubts that torture works to produce reliable intelligence. “You know, the tough nut to crack, if you keep him awake for a week, you torture him, you tie his arms behind him, you have him on the ground—anyone can be brought beyond their ability to resist.” Indeed, he says, it would have been unethical for him not to come forward: “America is my client; Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.” Mitchell, Jessen, and other military psychologists felt the same way, he says. “Anyone who wants to throw stones in this situation really needs to step back and figure out what they themselves would do in these situations and not just be ‘ivory tower’ critics,” he notes. “Most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about.” [National Public Radio, 5/4/2009]
Accused of Abandoning Ethical Code - Psychologist Stephen Soldz, who writes for the organization Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, is highly critical of Lefever’s stance, accusing him of renouncing the psychologists’ code of ethics, and notes that Lefever implicitly acknowledges that SERE tactics were used on US detainees, an admission CIA and Pentagon officials have been loath to make. [Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, 5/4/2009]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
Mary and Pat Tillman Sr. in 2002 at a halftime ceremony held during an Arizona Cardinals game in honor of their son. [Source: Associated Press]Mary Tillman, mother of Ranger Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002), a former NFL star killed under disputed circumstances in Afghanistan in 2002 (see April 23, 2004), sends a one-sentence email to the Associated Press: “It is imperative that General [Stanley] McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings.” McChrystal, once a ‘black ops’ Special Forces chief, is to head up the war in Afghanistan, replacing fired General David McKiernan.
Due for Confirmation, McChrystal Participated in Tillman Death Cover-Up - On April 29, 2004, McChrystal, then a lieutenant general, urged top generals to warn “our nation’s leaders,” particularly the president, not to refer to “the devastating enemy fire” story cited in paperwork he had already approved to award Tillman the Silver Star (see April 29, 2004) posthumously. He wrote that it was “highly possible” Tillman’s death was due to friendly fire. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
Pentagon Wanted McCrystal Punished, but Senate Voted to Promote - When these facts regarding McCrystal’s role in the Pentagon’s suppression of the truth about the circumstances of Tillman’s death became known in 2007, the Pentagon wanted him to be sanctioned. However, in 2008, the Senate overwhelmingly voted for his promotion from a two-star to a three-star general.
Father Accuses McChrystal of Being on Board with Deception - In an interview with the Associated Press, Tillman’s father, Pat Sr., says that McChrystal had joined a “falsified” investigation into criminal conduct in an earlier Army probe. McChrystal’s confirmation process is slated to be finalized in late June. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
Stanley McChrystal arrives in Kabul with teams of counterinsurgency staff within days of his nomination to replace General David McKiernan (see May 11, 2009) as top commander in Afghanistan. Military and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry will later report that McChrystal “commandeers” McKiernan’s headquarters on arrival in Kabul. McChrystal’s teams then fan out all over the country to assess the need for a large increase in US troops to fight a strengthening insurgency. “They absolutely flooded the zone,” a US development officer will tell Perry. “There must have been hundreds of them. They were in every province, every village, talking to everyone. There were 10 of them for every one of us.” Perry will also cite a White House official who asserts that McChrystal and his team use the period before his official confirmation to the top post to begin building a case for more US troops. “From the minute that McChrystal showed up in Kabul, he drove the debate,” the White House official will say. “You’ll notice—from May on it was no longer a question of whether we should follow a military strategy or deploy additional troops. It was always, ‘should we do 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000, or even 80,000’? We weren’t searching for the right strategy; we were searching for the right number.” [Asia Times, 12/10/2009]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Malalai Joya. [Source: Getty]In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. [Guardian, 7/25/2009] She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/3/2009]
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” [Independent, 7/28/2009] Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” [ZNet, 5/16/2009]
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. [Human Rights Watch, 5/23/2007; Democracy Now!, 6/19/2007]
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). [New York Times, 5/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Small Arms Survey, James C. Howell, New York Times, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Anthony Ierardi, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Government Accountability Office, James Bevan, Office of the Inspector General (DoD)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” [CNN, 5/29/2009]
The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. [Independent, 9/2/2009; Time, 9/10/2009] Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. [Fox News, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Ed Reeder, Green Berets, Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Special Operations Command, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US spends more than any other nation in the world on health care, but ranks only 50th among 224 nations in life expectancy, according to the 2009 CIA World Factbook. Experts say that this fact could raise serious questions in the debate over health care reform. Americans have an average life span of 78.1 years; the populations of 49 other nations live longer, on average. Japan is first in life expectancy, at 83 years; Australia, Iceland, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, Andorra, Canada, and France round out the top 10 countries. Other countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Singapore, Greece, Spain, and Portugal also do better than the US in life expectancy. The bottom 10 nations are, in reverse order, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Chad, Uganda, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, with life spans ranging from averages of 41 to 48 years. Some experts note that the US is the only developed nation to have a virtually completely privatized health care system. “What we are able to find in the industrialized world is that life expectancy will be influenced in a beneficial manner to the extent that health care expenditure is publicly financed,” says public health professor Harvey Brenner. “The higher the government expenditure on health care, the lower will be the mortality rate.” A study from the University of Chicago shows that a single-payer system—government-run health care—may be associated with higher life expectancy. The governments of such nations as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Canada have government-run health care, and their citizens have some of the longest life spans in the world. The author of the study, Bianca Frogner, writes: “Inevitably the conversation about reforming our health care system focuses on the question of what are we getting for our money and how are others doing with their health care dollars. Life expectancy, along with mortality and morbidity rates, are fairly straightforward numbers to rely on.” Other comparisons show that Scandinavian and other European countries have lower birth mortality numbers than the US, though babies born with abnormally low birth weights tend to fare better in the US system than in the Scandinavian systems. [CNN, 6/11/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
US military leaflet dispersed to villages in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan. [Source: CBS]The US military blankets at least two southeastern Afghan villages with leaflets made at Bagram Air Base that threaten to “target” villagers with aggressive measures if a US soldier who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the area is not freed. Villagers tell CBS News that aircraft drop the leaflets over a period of several days, and that the papers are found stuck in trees and scattered on rooftops. One side of the leaflet shows a US soldier with his head bowed and the message, “If you do not free the American soldier, then…” The message continues on the other side: “… you will be targeted” (or “hunted,” according to one translation) over an image of Western troops kicking down a door to break into a house. Military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias later confirms that the leaflets are produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region. She will contradict the villagers’ account, however, saying they were distributed by hand, not by aircraft. Mathias then explains that another, non-threatening leaflet was dropped from aircraft in the region. This leaflet informs locals that a US soldier is missing and requests information on his whereabouts. Mathias’ colleague, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, says no threats were made in this air-dropped leaflet, which, according to the US military’s translation, reads: “One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home.” The leaflet includes a phone number and shows a US soldier sitting among smiling Afghan children. Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin tells Reuters that US forces have been harassing Afghans in Paktika and Ghazni provinces over the kidnapping. “They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill [the kidnapped US soldier],” Sangin says by telephone. [CBS News, 7/16/2009; Reuters, 7/16/2009]
Winning over and Protecting the Local Population? - The US military launched a major operation in the southern province of Helmand on July 2 (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) under US President Obama’s recent troop escalation and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that new US commander Stanley McChrystal has said is intended, in part, to “win over” and protect the Afghan people. “At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” McChrystal tells the New York Times. [New York Times, 7/15/2009]
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
The July death toll for coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan reaches 47, surpassing full month highs set in August and June 2008. The record toll comes in the two weeks since the US and its allies launched a massive offensive dubbed “Operation Khanjar” in opium-ridden Helmand province as part of the Obama administration’s new escalation and counterinsurgency strategy (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). According to a CNN count based on government figures, the deaths in July so far include 23 Americans, 15 Britons, five Canadians, two Turks, an Italian, and a NATO soldier whose nationality has not been revealed. [CNN, 6/16/2009]
Surge and Death Rate Mirror Iraq War - In the two weeks coinciding with the launch of US-led “Operation Khanjar,” international troops have died at an average rate of three a day, which is almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04 and approaching the death rate of the deadliest days in Iraq. “It is something we did anticipate occurring as we extend our influence in the south,” says US Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for US and NATO forces, adding that the increased violence is likely to continue for several months at minimum. The Obama administration’s escalation strategy resembles some tactics of the “surge” of additional forces that then-President Bush ordered in Iraq in 2007, which saw months of increased American casualties before violence declined (see December 30, 2007). The US military does not use the term “surge” to refer to the increase in forces in Afghanistan because the escalation is considered indefinite as opposed to the time limit the Bush administration set in Iraq. [Reuters, 6/15/2009]
US troop deaths in Afghanistan reach 31, the highest toll for US troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001, surpassing the previous record of 28 deaths in June 2008. “This is probably the new normal,” says Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corporation and author of a new book on the war in Afghanistan. “I’d actually be shocked if casualties didn’t continue to increase.” The Washington Post notes that although thousands of US Marines are in the midst of a major operation in the southern province of Helmand (see Early Morning July 2, 2009), American troops suffer the heaviest losses in the eastern part of the country where 16 US soldiers have been killed so far this month. The majority of the fatalities are caused by roadside bombs, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. [Washington Post, 7/22/2009] By the end of the month, the death toll for US troops will reach at least 43 among 75 coalition troops killed. [Voice of America, 7/31/2009] A similar spike in US military fatalities occurred in Iraq in 2007 just after then-President George W. Bush dispatched around 30,000 additional troops to the country (see December 30, 2007). US troop levels will roughly double this year in Afghanistan, a rate of increase sharper than that of the Iraq “surge” ordered by Bush (see January 10, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/22/2009]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. [Boston Globe, 7/31/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempts to cut a secret deal with one of his presidential election rivals in a bid to knock his strongest challenger from the race, to ensure a clear victory and, ostensibly, the minimization of sectarian violence a tight result might provoke in the hyper-armed country. In the proposed deal, Karzai asks former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a candidate currently running third in the polls, to give up his election bid in exchange for a job as “chief executive”—a post described as similar to prime minister—in a Karzai government. Such an agreement would likely unite the Pashtun vote and knock Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, out of the race. Karzai’s offer will be confirmed by several sources, including Ghani himself, and may have backing from top US officials. “If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as president and Ghani as chief executive,” one campaign official will tell The Independent. During the election campaign, Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and various warlords, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. The Independent cites international officials who believe that as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged.
Karzai's Offer Confirmed - President Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, is the first to approach Ghani with the proposal according to sources close to Karzai’s inner circle. Karzai presents Ghani with the argument that Ghani can’t win the election anyway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to hold on to power. Ghani’s staff will also confirm that Karzai emissaries make an offer, but they say that Ghani has no plans to pull out of the race and will continue his campaign. Ghani himself will later confirm Karzai’s overture. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” he will tell reporters in the province of Faryab (see August 8, 2009).
Top US Diplomats Holbrooke and Eikenberry Back the Proposal - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Ghani, according to the Independent report. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration says. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.” Furthermore, The Independent notes that the idea of a chief executive was originally devised in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat, a profile that certainly fits Ghani. The Washington Post will later report that according to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, US officials back the idea of a new chief executive position under Karzai. The Post also reports that US officials have discussed the “chief executive” proposal with Ghani. US embassy officials, however, deny any involvement in back-room deals. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Washington Post, 8/14/2009]
Threats of Post-Election Armed Protests, Civil War - Analysts and journalists suggest that Afghanistan’s coming elections threaten to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, possibly igniting a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s (see March 13, 1994). “The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” one Afghan analyst says. Anticipating fraudulent results, Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations if Karzai wins. Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs,” should Karzai win a second term. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Reuters, 8/8/2009]
Anders Fogh Rasmussen. [Source: Publicity Photo]NATO will stay in Afghanistan “for as long as it takes,” according to the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes—let me repeat that, for as long as it takes,” Rasmussen says in a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Opening his remarks with a moral argument, Rasmussen says, “Anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women’s rights, should support this mission.” He also states that NATO’s immediate goal is to ensure “credible elections,” which are scheduled for later in the month. Rasmussen, who has just replaced Jap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO chief, explains NATO’s longer-term goal in terms of handing over the lead in security to the Afghan National Security Forces, with NATO stepping back into a support role. “The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans,” he says. [CNN, 8/3/2009; NATO, 8/3/2009]
Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main presidential election rivals, denies that he has agreed to withdraw from the August 20 election in exchange for a top position in a future Karzai government. Karzai proposed the back-room offer to Ghani in late July (see Late July 2009) in the hope of securing victory over leading contender Abdullah Abdullah. In the proposed deal, Karzai offered Ghani a job as “chief executive” in his (future) government if he would agree to drop out of the race. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” Ghani tells reporters in Faryab province. However, it appears that Ghani, a former finance minister under Karzai, is holding out for a better deal. Suggesting that he is not ruling out a return to government if allowed to implement his plans, he says, “There would have to be very very firm commitments, time-bound set of activities, full embracement of the program that I’ve articulated for the next 10 years.” [Reuters, 8/8/2009]
The British general in line to become the UK’s next head of the Army states that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years. “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years,” General Sir David Richards says in an interview with the London Times. Richards, who was a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasizes that British troop involvement there should only be needed for the medium term, but insists that there is “absolutely no chance” of NATO pulling out. “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner—development, governance, security sector reform—for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, responds that 30 to 40 years in Afghanistan is untenable and unaffordable. “Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy,” he says. General Richards adds that Western forces need to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an exit strategy that should not be understood as an abandonment of the region. In fact, the general insists that Western forces will stay on to demonstrate their commitment to the region and to prove “opponents” wrong. “We need now to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Just as in Iraq, it is our route out militarily, but the Afghan people and our opponents need to know that this does not mean our abandoning the region. We made this mistake once. Our opponents are banking on us doing it again, and we must prove them wrong,” he says. [London Times, 8/8/2009] Richards will later seek to clarify his comments, stating that British military involvement “along current lines” would be needed for a much shorter period than broader international engagement in development, governance, and security sector reform. [Reuters, 8/17/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offers no timeline for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and states that the length of US combat engagement there is a “mystery.” When asked at a press conference how long he thinks American combat forces will be fighting active war in Afghanistan, Gates, a former CIA director, responds: “[I]n the intelligence business, we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and mysteries.… Mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long US forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.” When pressed further, he reasserts the unpredictability of the proposition, but guesses that “a few years” may be required to defeat the insurgency militarily, and that the larger enterprise of institution-building and economic development will require US engagement for decades. Responding to a question concerning a statement made by incoming British Army Chief General Sir David Richards that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years (see August 8, 2009), Gates replies that he does not agree that troops will be committed in combat operations for that long, but agrees with Richards’s later distinction that wider engagement in areas such as economic development and governance will be a “decades-long enterprise.” Joining Gates at the press conference is Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright. Cartwright backs Gates’s “mystery” assessment, but he links the possibility of force withdrawal to the political situation and handing over competencies to the Afghan National Security Forces. [Associated Press, 8/13/2009; U.S. Department of Defense, 8/13/2009]
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. [U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/26/2009] In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. [Washington Times, 8/24/2009]
A US drone strike kills Tahir Yuldashev, the top leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. The strike apparently hits the town of Kanigoram, South Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Yuldashev may initially survive the strike but slowly dies of his injuries afterwards. Pakistani officials confirm his death several weeks later. The IMU confirms his death nearly a year later, and names his successor, Usmon Odil. [News (Islamabad), 9/30/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009; Daily Times (Lahore), 8/19/2010] In the late 1990s, most IMU operatives fled Uzbekistan when the government cracked down on the group. Under Yuldashev’s leadership, they resettled in Afghanistan and developed close ties to both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Yuldashev appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late July 2001). After the US conquest of Afghanistan in late 2001, Yuldashev and most of the IMU appear to have resettled in Pakistan’s tribal region, and they became a powerful force there. For instance, a Pakistani army offensive in 2004 targeted Yuldashev (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 10/2/2009; BBC, 10/9/2009]
The US Air Force loses control of a drone it is flying over Afghanistan. As a result, the drone is shot down. The reason for the loss of control is unclear. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
The Taliban’s capabilities and attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated according to US military officials who say it appears as if they have received training from elite forces. Several officials interviewed by the Washington Post say that it appears as if the insurgents attended something akin to the US Army Ranger School. “In some cases… we started to see that enhanced form of attack,” says a US Army general who previously oversaw forces in Afghanistan. He tells the Post that the insurgents have “developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force.” Another officer stationed at the Pentagon suggests that the Taliban are improving with experience by studying US forces in remote areas such as the Korengal Valley near the border with Pakistan. According to the officer, battles in this region “are a perfect lab to vet fighters and study US tactics.” Some officers conjecture that fighters are receiving professional instruction from Arab and Central Asian countries though the use of embedded trainers, a mentoring technique used by the US military. [Washington Post, 9/2/2009] Last year, Al Jazeera reported that former members of the Afghan National Police who had received training from US forces including Blackwater were defecting to the Taliban (see (August) - October 15, 2008).
Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer ignores orders to remain in place and leads five forays into a ravine outside the village of Ganjigal, Afghanistan, after members of his column are ambushed by Taliban while attempting a meeting with the village elders. Meyer and Staff Sergeant Juan J. Rodriguez-Chavez, who are off to a flank and not inside the ambush, rush in and rescue several trapped American and Afghan soldiers after Captain Will Swenson of the US Army calls for artillery support and the request is denied. Meyer, Rodriguez-Chavez, Swenson, and others also retrieve the remains of three fallen Marines and one Navy corpsman. [New York Times, 9/15/2011] Meyer will later be given the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions (see September 15, 2011) [New York Times, 9/15/2011] and Rodriguez-Chavez will receive the Navy Cross. [CNN, 6/10/2011]
Limits and Dangers of Counterinsurgency Theory - The event will later be examined and used as an example of the problems that can occur with the counterinsurgency theory that has been pressed upon the troops by the Pentagon. The villagers’ betrayal to the Taliban, ambiguous lines of command, and refusal of help from nearby units will all been documented as the kinds of problems that enlisted soldiers typically face in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, sends a frank cable to her superiors back in the US warning that the US needs to change its policy towards Pakistan. Patterson says, “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support” to the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups, “which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India. The only way to achieve a cessation of such support is to change the Pakistan government’s own perception of its security requirements.” She adds that “No amount of money will sever” the link between Pakistan and those groups. Instead, she says the US has to address Pakistan’s real worries about India. Pakistan is concerned that India is gaining influence in Afghanistan with its sizable foreign aid there, and the US may eventually pull its troops out. Pakistani support of militant groups allows it to have a big influence in Afghanistan if militant forces eventually take over there. The US needs to focus on Pakistan’s relationship with India to solve its support of militants, for instance by “resolving the Kashmir dispute, which lies at the core of Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups.” Pakistan and India have fought over the disputed region of Kashmir for decades. It is not known if the US follows any of Patterson’s advice. [Guardian, 11/30/2010; Guardian, 11/30/2010]
The Pentagon establishes a new unit called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program,” which is designed to develop cadres of officers (and civilians) from each of the military’s services who agree to three to five year tours to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Under the program, the Pentagon plans to assemble a dedicated cadre of about 600 officers and civilians who will develop skills in counterinsurgency, regional languages, and culture, and then be “placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving US government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region,” according to a Pentagon directive establishing the program. Those selected for the program will do a year in Afghanistan before moving to the Pentagon’s new Afghanistan office or to jobs at CENTCOM that are focused on the war. Implementation of the Afpak Hands program is to begin in two phases. The first phase, commencing on October 19, 2009, has already been sourced according to the Pentagon directive. The Afpak Hands program, together with a new intelligence center based at CENTCOM called the “Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence” (see August 26, 2009) and the recently established Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell (see May 11-June 10, 2009), indicate that the US military is planning for a long-term engagement in the region depending heavily on elite, Afpak-dedicated military and intelligence officers. [Wall Street Journal, 10/6/2009; Marines.mil, 10/7/2009]
US and Pakistani analysts and officials say that a series of deadly coordinated attacks this week on army and police installations in Pakistan demonstrate the increasing sophistication of a “syndicate” of militant groups who employ commando tactics and display inside knowledge of Pakistani security structures. Attacks this week on Pakistan’s army headquarters in Rawalpindi, two attacks at a police station in Kohat, and attacks at a federal investigations building and two police training centers—one of them a respected school for elite forces—in Lahore demonstrate the expanded range and effectiveness of a militant network thought to comprise Tehrik-i-Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi working together in Pakistan, possibly with al-Qaeda. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik is quoted by the New York Times as saying that a syndicate of militant groups wants to ensure Pakistan becomes a failed state. “The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Jaish-e-Muhammad, al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are operating jointly in Pakistan,” Malik tells journalists. [New York Times, 10/15/2009] Mehdi Hassan, the dean of the School of Media and Communications at Lahore’s Beaconhouse National University, says in a telephone interview that the commando attacks are “part of a well-planned psychological war campaign” and have helped create “a national atmosphere of crisis” in Pakistan. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2009] Last month, US military officials said the Taliban in Afghanistan were increasingly improving their capabilities and demonstrating tactics typical of specially trained elite forces (see September 2, 2009).
Days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that his administration is investigating reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the increasingly unstable northern provinces of the country (see May-October 12, 2009), US, NATO, and Afghan officials reject the reports and insinuations that Western forces are aiding the Taliban or other militants. US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, denounces reports that the US is secretly helping Afghanistan’s enemies with weapons and helicopters as outrageous and baseless. “We would never aid the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, that are killing our soldiers, your soldiers, and innocent Afghan civilians every day,” he says. [Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/15/2009] A Karzai campaign staffer says that Karzai did not mean to imply the helicopters were American. “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] According to the Ariana Television Network, the German ambassador to Afghanistan, Werner Hans Lauk, professes ignorance when asked about Karzai’s claim that helicopters are carrying armed individuals to the northern provinces. Germany is assigned command responsibility for the north. [Ariana Television Network, 10/14/2009] “This entire business with the helicopters is just a rumor,” says Brigadier General Juergen Setzer, who is the recently appointed commander for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the north, which has overall control of the air space in that region. “It has no basis in reality, according to our investigations.” Captain Tim Dark, of Britain’s Task Force Helmand, is also vehement in his denunciation. “The thought that British soldiers could be aiding and abetting the enemy is just rubbish,” he says. “We have had 85 casualties so far this year.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
The death toll for the US military in Afghanistan reaches a record 59 total fatalities according to the independent website iCasualties.org. More US troops are killed this month than in any other since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001. [iCasualties, 11/1/2009] This number includes one period in which 24 Americans were killed within 48 hours. [CNN, 10/28/2009] Seventy-four coalition troops are also killed this month. The Wall Street Journal notes that Afghan insurgents have killed at least 70 coalition soldiers in every month since June. The spike in coalition deaths comes as the coalition expands its war and increases troop levels. Likewise, the insurgency has been growing and militant attacks have increased in sophistication. [Wall Street Journal, 10/28/2009; iCasualties, 11/1/2009]
US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. [Los Angeles Times, 12/16/2009] These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).
Al Jazeera broadcasts footage showing Afghan insurgents in possession of American weapons and ammunition. The fighters depicted in the video brandish the weapons, including anti-personnel mines with US markings on them, in a remote district of Nuristan Province in eastern Afghanistan. The area was the site of a battle in which up to 300 fighters bombarded a joint US-Afghan army outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortar shells, killing eight US troops and three Afghan soldiers. The US military subsequently abandoned the post and claims that its forces had removed and accounted for their equipment. NATO spokespersons Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician and Angela Eggman confirm that the material in the footage “appears to be US equipment” but say it is unclear how or when the insurgents got the weapons. “It’s debatable whether they got them from that location,” Vician says, referring to the mountainous zone where the nearly six-hour battle took place. “Before departing the base, the units removed all sensitive items and accounted for them,” states Eggman. However, General Mohammad Qassim Jangulbagh, provincial police chief in Nuristan, says that the US destroyed most of the ammunition, but left some of it behind only to fall into the hands of insurgents. Al Jazeera reports that the insurgents say they seized the weapons from two US remote outposts in Nuristan. General Shir Mohammad Karimi, chief of operations for the Afghan Defense Ministry, expresses skepticism. “As far as I know, nothing was left behind,” he says. The Associated Press notes that it is unclear when the video was filmed. [Associated Press, 11/10/2009; Al Jazeera, 11/11/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton circulates a diplomatic cable that states Pakistani intelligence continues to support some Islamist militant groups. The cable is sent to US ambassadors and other US diplomats, and contains “talking points” to raise with host governments. In Pakistan, the diplomats are told to press the Pakistani government to take action against the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban operating in Pakistan, and to enforce sanctions against Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. The cable reads, “Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Toiba], and other extremist organizations. These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.” (A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.) The contents of the cable will be made public by Wikileaks, a non-profit whistleblower group, in 2010. [Daily Telegraph, 5/31/2011]
A detainee claims that he received information concerning the location of Osama bin Laden in January or February. The detainee says he met bin Laden several times before 9/11, and, according to Pakistani security officials, has close ties with Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders.
Detainee's Story - Earlier in the year, the detainee met a trusted contact who said he had seen bin Laden in the eastern Afghani town of Ghazni 15 to 20 days earlier. “He [the contact] said he had come from meeting Sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him,” says the detainee. “He helps al-Qaeda people coming from other countries to get to the sheikh, so he can advise them on whatever they are planning for Europe or other places. The sheikh doesn’t stay in any one place. That guy came from Ghazni, so I think that’s where the sheikh was.” The detainee is interviewed twice by the BBC in the presence of Pakistani officials, although Western interrogators are not allowed to talk to him. He is not named publicly for legal reasons, and says he declined the invitation to travel to meet bin Laden because he was afraid of compromising bin Laden’s security, if he was captured by the police or the army, stating, “If I had met him, the first question they would have asked would be where have you met him, and I would have had more problems and it would have created problems for them [al-Qaeda].” The BBC will point out that the detainee’s claims cannot be verified.
Comment by Counterterrorism Expert - However, US counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, says the detainee’s story is “a very important lead, that ought to be tracked down,” adding, “The entire Western intelligence community, CIA, and MI6, have been looking for [bin Laden] for the last seven years, and haven’t come upon a source of information like this.”
Bin Laden 'Fresh' - The detainee also claims that bin Laden is well, active, and even training instructors. “What my associate told me was that he is fresh, and doing well,” he says. “The information I have is that he provides training to special people. There are training centres in homes, and all the teachers are first trained by the Sheikh. Then they go and teach the classes.”
Militants Allegedly Avoiding Pakistan - The detainee also says militants are avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of US drone attacks. “Pakistan at this time is not convenient for us to stay in because a lot of our senior people are being martyred in drone attacks,” he says.
Skepticism - The BBC will point out that “his account suits Pakistan, which maintains that bin Laden is not on its soil (see December 3, 2009), though Britain and the US think otherwise.” It adds, “The detainee’s account raises a lot of questions—among them, what were his motives for talking.” [BBC, 12/4/2009]
President Obama asks the Pakistani government for permission to launch raids on the ground against strongholds of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but the request is refused. Haqqani has become the de facto leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban. Although it is based in Pakistan’s tribal region, it launches attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. The US has put a $5 million bounty on Haqqani’s head, and attempts to kill him with drone strikes have been unsuccessful (see for instance September 8, 2008). Obama makes the request in a letter to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which is hand delivered by National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General David Petraeus, head of US forces in the region, follows up with a meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military. However, Pakistan says no. A senior Pakistani official says that a fight with the Haqqani network would create too many problems for Pakistan’s over-stretched army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by US forces,” he says. However, US intelligence believes that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is actually allied with the Haqqani network and has been for over 20 years. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010] US intelligence believes that in 2008, the Haqqani network and the ISI worked together to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and August 1, 2008). Later in the month, a suicide bomber will kill nine people at a CIA base in Afghanistan, and US intelligence will suspect that the Haqqani network was involved in the attack (see December 30, 2009) and the ISI may have played a role as well (see January 6, 2010).
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
It is reported that a preliminary investigation into the suicide bombing that killed nine at a CIA base in Afghanistan (see December 30, 2009) suggests that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, may have played a role. The Jordanian triple agent who blew himself up in the bombing used an unusually compact and powerful type of bomb. According to senior Afghan sources, a preliminary US investigation shows that a chemical fingerprint of the bomb matches a type of explosive used by the ISI. One senior government source says, “It is not possible that the [bomber] received that type of explosive without the help of ISI.” US and Pakistani officials have refused to publicly comment on any suggestions of ISI involvement. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010]
Sirajuddin Haqqani. [Source: State Department]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone aimed at Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, but fails to kill him. Haqqani is believed to hold major responsibilities for the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. His father Jalaluddin Haqqani still technically leads the network, but is over 60 years old and ill. The US blames the Haqqani network for a role in a suicide bombing against a CIA base in Afghanistan in December 2009 (see December 30, 2009), as well as other attacks. Sirajuddin’s younger brother is killed, but this brother is believed to have little to no role in the network. Three others are also killed by the strike, which hits a village in North Waziristan. The Haqqani network is believed to have many fighters in Afghanistan combating US-led forces. It is also said to be closely linked to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [New York Times, 2/19/2010]
The Associated Press publishes an article by Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon revealing the name of the Afghan detainee who died at the CIA-controlled Salt Pit prison near Kabul in November 2002 (see November 20, 2002). The prisoner is named as Gul Rahman, and further details about his capture and death are also revealed for the first time. [Associated Press, 3/28/2010]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urges the US State Department to blacklist the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and the Haqqani network, but this does not happen. Both the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Haqqani network are militant groups closely linked with the Taliban, but are mainly based in Pakistan. Feinstein, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claims that the US blacklists foreign groups that engage in terrorism and threaten US citizens and US national security, and both groups “clearly meet” the criteria to be blacklisted. Agence France-Presse reports that the US “has hesitated” to blacklist these groups “in part out of consideration for relations with Pakistan, where anti-Americanism runs rife and whose government is keen to be seen as fighting the Taliban on its own terms.” The Haqqani network is believed to have taken part in a number of terrorist attacks (see January 14, 2008, April 27, 2008, July 7, 2008, December 30, 2009), and in 2009, the US put a $5 million bounty on leader Sirajuddin Haqqani (see March 25, 2009). The Haqqani network is also believed to be a strategic asset of the Pakistani government (see May 2008). Tehrik-i-Taliban was recently implicated in a failed bombing in Times Square in New York City. [Agence France-Presse, 5/13/2010]
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells ABC News that there are on 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal region. He says that the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is “relatively small.… At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He also says that bin Laden “is in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He concedes that the CIA has not had good intelligence on bin Laden’s location for a long time. “It’s been a while. I think it goes back almost to the early 2000s, you know in terms of actually when [bin Laden] was leaving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then it has been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” [ABC News, 6/27/2010] Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
The location of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, allegedly is revealed by a captured German militant. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), both the Washington Times and London Times will claim that a militant named Ahmed Siddiqui is captured in Afghanistan in July 2010, and quickly tells US interrogators that bin Laden is hiding in a compound in Abbottabad (although apparently he does not mention the exact location, just the town). Both articles will also claim that US intelligence tracks bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed to bin Laden’s compound at nearly the exact same time (see July 2010 and August 1, 2010). The Washington Times will mention that different sources name Siddiqui or Ahmed as the key intelligence breakthrough. [Washington Times, 5/2/2011; London Times, 5/8/2011] In September 2010, Der Spiegel will report that the 36-year-old Siddiqui is arrested in early July by US forces in Afghanistan, and he confesses about attack plots in Germany and other countries. He is a German of Afghan descent, and is believed to be part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He is thought to have gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2009. He attended the same mosque in Hamburg as some of the 9/11 hijackers such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Siddiqui also has links to Mounir El Motassadeq, who was given a 15-year sentence in Germany for a role in the 9/11 attacks (see January 8, 2007). For instance, Siddiqui worked at the Hamburg airport like El Motassadeq did, drove El Motassadeq’s father to jail to visit El Motassadeq, and went on vacation with El Motassadeq’s family in Morocco in 2002. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/6/2010]
A Washington Post article suggests that Hamid Gul, head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989, has been frequently linked to recent Islamist militant activity. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and in the 1980s Gul worked closely with the US to support the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and defeat the Soviets there (see April 1987). The Post article states that “more than two decades later, it appears that General Gul is still at work. [Newly leaked] documents indicate that he has worked tirelessly to reactivate his old networks, employing familiar allies like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose networks of thousands of fighters are responsible for waves of violence in Afghanistan.” The Post is referring to thousands of classified US government documents made public by WikiLeaks, a non-profit whistleblower group. The documents often appear to be raw intelligence that sometimes turns out to be inaccurate. But nonetheless, the Post notes that “General Gul is mentioned so many times in the reports, if they are to be believed, that it seems unlikely that Pakistan’s current military and intelligence officials could not know of at least some of his wide-ranging activities.”
Link to Recent Taliban and Al-Qaeda Activity - For example, according to one intelligence report, Gul met with a group of militants in South Waziristan (in Pakistan’s tribal region), on January 5, 2009. He allegedly met with Taliban and al-Qaeda figures, and planned an attack to avenge the death of al-Qaeda leader Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam), who had been killed several days earlier by a US drone strike (see January 1, 2009). The group discussed driving a truck rigged with explosives into Afghanistan to be used against US forces there. According to another report, in January 2008, Gul directed the Taliban to kidnap high-level United Nations personnel in Afghanistan to trade for captured Pakistani soldiers. [Washington Post, 7/26/2010]
Gul Frequently Mentioned in Intelligence Reports - Gul lives openly in an exclusive district of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and he frequently shares his pro-Taliban views with reporters. But a Der Spiegel article published on this day notes that the nearly 92,000 documents recently published by WikiLeaks “suggest that Gul is more than just a garrulous old man. If the accusations are true, Gul isn’t just an ally of the Taliban in spirit, but is also supplying them with weapons and thereby actively taking part in the fight against Western forces. Gul is effectively being accused of being an important helper of the Taliban, and possibly even one of their leaders.” In fact, “The name Hamid Gul appears more often than virtually any other” in the documents. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 7/26/2010]
Gul Still Linked to Pakistani Government? - Gul denies all the allegations. Pakistani officials also deny that Gul still works with the ISI in any way. But the Post reports: “Despite his denials, General Gul keeps close ties to his former employers. When a reporter visited General Gul this spring for an interview at his home, the former spy master canceled the appointment. According to his son, he had to attend meetings at army headquarters.” [Washington Post, 7/26/2010] In late 2008, the US government attempted to put Gul on a United Nations list of terrorist supporters, but apparently that move has been blocked by other countries (see December 7, 2008).
Speaking publicly in India, British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that the Pakistani government is exporting terrorism. He says, “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and is able to promote the export of terror, whether to India or Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. That is why this relationship is important. But it should be a relationship based on a very clear message: that it is not right to have any relationship with groups that are promoting terror. Democratic states that want to be part of the developed world cannot do that. The message to Pakistan from the US and from [Britain] is very clear on that point.” He also says that “[G]roups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network, or Lakshar-e-Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain.” All three militant groups mentioned have been accused of terrorist bombings and there are claims the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been backing them.
Cameron Does Not Back Down - Later in the day, Cameron is asked in an interview if Pakistan exports terrorism. He replies, “I choose my words very carefully. It is unacceptable for anything to happen within Pakistan that is about supporting terrorism elsewhere. It is well-documented that that has been the case in the past, and we have to make sure that the Pakistan authorities are not looking two ways.”
Diplomatic Row Ensues - Pakistani officials immediately take offense and reject the validity of Cameron’s statement. The Guardian reports that Cameron’s unusually blunt comments spark a “furious diplomatic row” between Britain and Pakistan. Cameron’s comments appear to be based on a briefing he was given by US officials one week earlier (see July 21, 2010). [Guardian, 7/28/2010]
The Wall Street Journal runs an article about the chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan (see Summer 2009). The purpose of the article seems to be to stress the importance of the station chief, known only as “Spider.” The Journal calls him the “key” to relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “a pivotal behind-the-scenes power broker in Kabul.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010]
General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; BBC, 9/7/2010] A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” [Robert Spencer, 9/7/2010]
Protesters in Kabul burn Florida pastor Terry Jones in effigy during a protest against Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran on September 11. [Source: Musadeq Sadeq / Associated Press]Spokespersons for 11 nations with large Muslim populations speak out against Florida pastor Terry Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010). The Christian Science Monitor has reported: “Muslims see [the Koran] as the uninterrupted, unchangeable, and eternal word of God. Burning the Koran is akin to directly burning the word of God.” India’s Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, says: “We condemn the action of the pastor. It is totally unbecoming of anyone who claims to be a man of religion. We hope that the US authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed.… While we await the action of the US authorities, we would appeal to the media in India—both print and visual media—to refrain from telecasting visuals or publishing photographs of the deplorable act.” Fourteen percent of Indian citizens are Muslim. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono appeals to US President Obama to stop the burning (see September 10, 2010). “Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam,” Yudhoyono writes in a letter to Obama. “If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts will be useless.” Eighty-six percent of Indonesia’s population is Muslim, and it is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Bahrain’s foreign minister issues a statement that calls the planned Koran-burning a “shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence.” Bahrain is over 80 percent Muslim. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls the plan to burn the Koran “despicable,” saying in a statement that “anyone who even thought of such a despicable act must be suffering from a diseased mind and a sickly soul.… It will inflame sentiments among Muslims throughout the world and cause irreparable damage to interfaith harmony and also to world peace.” Zardari calls “for doing all that it takes to stop such a senseless and outrageous act.” Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husein Haqqani, tells a reporter that “the United States should live up to its high ideals and all these people who are against religious extremism and intolerance in the Muslim world should also speak up against meaningless gestures such as burning the Koran.” He also calls on Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck to speak out against the burning: “I think it would help if Mr. Glenn Beck came out against it, and said that people of faith do not burn the books of people of other faith,” Haqqani says. Some 95 percent of Pakistanis are Muslims. (The Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn compares Jones to Osama bin Laden, calling both “extremists.”) British Prime Minister David Cameron says through a spokesman that “primarily this is an issue for the US, but clearly the government’s view is that we would not condone the burning of any book.… We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious tolerance.” Former Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemns the plan, saying: “I deplore the act of burning the Koran. It is disrespectful, wrong, and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none. You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam. Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it.” Some 1.3 million British citizens are Muslims. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says: “I unequivocally condemn it. We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.… I don’t speak very often about my own religion, but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that’s what we want to see in this world. I don’t think that’s the way you treat other faiths, as different as those faiths may be from your own.” Canadian Defense Minister Peter Mackay, echoing sentiments expressed by General David Petraeus (see September 6, 2010), says that the burning could endanger NATO troops overseas: “It will incite further violence and hatred and I’m concerned that this will put Canadians and other ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] soldiers in harm’s way.” Some 500,000 Canadians practice Islam. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman says: “That is the most heinous crime and action, it’s unthinkable. There is no doubt whatsoever that it is an attack on Muslims. It will not only anger the Muslims in Malaysia and throughout the world—Christians also don’t condone this kind of action.… I believe America will take appropriate action so this thing will not happen.” Malaysia has a Muslim majority of 15.5 million. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman says in a statement: “The president condemns the announcement of a religious group in the United States of its intention to openly burn copies of the Koran. It is a clear contradiction of the teachings of the three Abrahamic religions and of dialogue among the three faiths [Christianity, Islam and Judaism].” Lebanon is about 60 percent Muslim. Amr Moussa, the chief of the 22-nation Arab League, calls Jones a “fanatic” and calls on the US to oppose his “destructive approach.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel says, “If a fundamentalist, evangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Koran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong.” Brigadier General Hans-Werner Fritz, commander of German troops in Afghanistan, adds, “I only wish this wouldn’t happen, because it would provide a trigger for violence towards all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan.” Germany has over 3 million practicing Muslims. A Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry official says, “This bizarre plan… undermines our faith [and] is a flagrant insult to the feelings of Muslims worldwide and would ruin efforts to preach understanding amongst faiths.” The official says that Kuwait has asked its ambassador to the US to coordinate with other Arab and Muslim envoys to ensure that the “tolerant Islamic faith is respected.” The head of Kuwait’s Christian churches league, pastor Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, also condemns the plan in a statement and stresses it does not represent Christ’s teachings of tolerance. Kuwait’s 2.7 million population is 85 percent Muslim. The Vatican issues a condemnation of the burning, saying through the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Affairs: “These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community.… Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.” The Vatican, technically the world’s smallest country with a population of 800, is, presumably, all Roman Catholic. The Vatican is joined by several US Christian organizations in condemning the proposed Koran-burning (see September 8-9, 2010). [Christian Science Monitor, 9/9/2010] Jones is burned in effigy in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, in one of a number of protests around the world against his plans to burn a Koran. [Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010]
Entity Tags: Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, David Petraeus, Dawn (Pakistan), David Cameron, Christian Science Monitor, Barack Obama, Asif Ali Zardari, Amre Moussa, Angela Merkel, Anifah Aman, Emmanuel Benjamen al-Ghareeb, Stephen Harper, Glenn Beck, Husein Haqqani, Vatican, Tony Blair, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Affairs, Hans-Werner Fritz, Terry Jones (pastor), P. Chidambaram, Michel Suleiman, Peter Mackay
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
News reports indicate that former al-Qaeda spokesperson Suliman abu Ghaith has been released after years of house arrest in Iran. Abu Ghaith had been held in Iran with other al-Qaeda leaders under a kind of secret house arrest since early 2002 (see Spring 2002). Sometime earlier in the year, abu Ghaith was allegedly sent to Afghanistan as part of a deal with the Taliban in exchange for the release of an Iranian diplomat named Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, who was kidnapped in 2008. [United Press International, 9/29/2010]
Rami Makanesi. [Source: DAPD]In June 2010, Rami Makanesi, a German militant of Syrian descent, is arrested in Pakistan and quickly deported to Germany. He becomes a key source of information on recent al-Qaeda activity, and in return gets only a four-year sentence in Germany. In October 2010, he is shown photographs of al-Qaeda suspects, and he recognizes Said Bahaji in one of them. Bahaji is a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell, and fled to Pakistan shortly before the 9/11 attacks (see September 3-5, 2001). He has been wanted in Germany ever since (see September 21, 2001). Makanesi reveals that he spoke to Bahaji in May 2010, in Pakistan’s tribal region. Makanesi says that Bahaji “now looks completely different. He has a long beard and longer hair.” Bahaji is not considered a high ranking al-Qaeda leader, but he is respected because he has been involved so long. Bahaji now works for As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s propaganda and media effort. He is responsible for As-Sahab’s technical infrastructure. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Bahaji Still Not on Any US Wanted List - However, despite this news that Bahaji is not only still alive but continues to have an important al-Qaeda role, the US government has yet to publicly charge Bahaji or put him on any of their most wanted lists, nor has any bounty been announced for him. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/13/2011] Bahaji is not even on the FBI’s “Seeking Information—War on Terrorism” list. A person does not have to be formally charged to be on that list. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 6/5/2011]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemns the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011). He condemns Jones and calls on US authorities to arrest him. A day later, Afghan protesters storm a UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing seven guards and staffers and setting off a wave of bloody protests throughout the nation (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). US and international officials blame Jones for setting off the protests, but note that Karzai brought the attention of his people to the incident. They do not believe that Karzai intended to set off such violence, but instead think that he may have chosen to use the incident to vent his frustration with the continued foreign presence in Afghanistan. Stephen Carter, an independent policy analyst in Kabul, says: “Karzai seems to veer between being dependent on the international presence and a real sense resentment and powerlessness. He tends to come out with public statements that make clear the degree of resentment that he feels. In this particular case, he could have refrained from making a statement and acted in a way that would have made this particular outcome less likely, but I don’t think it was a deliberate conspiracy. I think he was voicing frustrations that he genuinely feels.” A Karzai spokesman says Karzai spoke out because of his moral outrage at the burning. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/5/2011]
Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty]Eleven people, including seven United Nations officials, are slain in Afghanistan following a protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Some press reports say 12 are killed.) The protest was spurred by the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011) and a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemning the burning (see March 31, 2011 and After). The attack is the worst incident on record against the UN since the conflict began in 2001. The protest begins peacefully, but turns violent after Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli tells the crowd of some 20,000 that multiple Korans had been burned, and they must protest in a call for Jones to be arrested. Otherwise, says Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the US. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he says. The infuriated crowd marches on the nearby UN compound, ignoring guards who at first fire their AK-47s into the air and then into the crowd. Four or five crowd members are killed before the guards are overwhelmed (press reports differ on the number of protesters slain). Crowd members take the guards’ weapons and turn them on people in the UN compound. Four UN guards from Nepal and three foreign workers from Norway, Romania, and Sweden are killed, along with four non-UN victims. One Afghan is arrested for leading the attack. General Abdul Rauf Taj, the deputy police commander for Balkh Province, says, “Police tried to stop them, but protesters began stoning the building, and finally the situation got out of control.” Kieran Dwyer of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says, “Some of our colleagues were just hunted down” by angry protesters, who also burn and vandalize the building. [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
Early Reports of Two Beheadings - Early press reports indicate that two of the seven slain UN personnel are beheaded, but Afghan authorities later deny these reports. [New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] An early report from the Christian Science Monitor says that 20 UN staffers have been killed. Later press reports do not include this number. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011]
Pastor Blames Muslims for Deaths - An unrepentant Jones calls on the US government and the international community to respond, saying in a statement: “We… find this a very tragic and criminal action. The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action. We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability.… They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.” Pegeen Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville, Florida, where Jones lives and works, says that most in the Gainesville community do not support Jones. “He’s a really fringy character,” Hanrahan says. “For every one person in Gainesville who thinks this is a good idea there are a thousand who just think it’s ridiculous.” Jacki Levine of the Gainesville Sun newspaper says of Jones: “He’s a person who has a congregation that’s exceedingly small, maybe 30 or 40 people—50 on a good day. He is not at all reflective of community he finds himself in.”
Condemnations, Warnings that Further Attacks May Take Place - President Obama condemns the attack, saying: “The brave men and women of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people. Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.” Obama was sharply critical of Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran (see September 10, 2010). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoes Obama’s sentiments, saying, “This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Ulema Council member Mullah Kashaf says of Jones: “We expressed our deep concerns about this act, and we were expecting the violence that we are witnessing now. Unless they try him and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world.” [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] Although Jones and his fellow church members deny any responsibility for the attacks, others disagree. One woman who lives near Jones’s church shakes her head in regret after being told of the Koran-burning, and says, in reference to Jones and the attack, “All because of him.” Gainseville Mayor Craig Lowe says: “Terry Jones and his followers were well aware their actions could trigger these kinds of events. It’s important that the world and nation know that this particular individual and these actions are not representative of our community.” Jones’s son Luke, a youth pastor at the church, says: “We absolutely do not feel responsible for it. You’re trying to avoid the real problem and blame someone.” The “real problem” is Islamic extremism, Luke Jones says, a stance he says is proven by the day’s attack. “The world can see how violent this religion—parts of this religion—can be.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Shah Adeli, Christian Science Monitor, Craig Lowe, Hamid Karzai, Jacki Levine, Barack Obama, Luke Jones, Kieran Dwyer, Abdul Rauf Taj, Mullah Kashaf, Ban Ki-Moon, Pegeen Hanrahan, United Nations, Terry Jones (pastor)
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Afghan protests against an American pastor’s recent burning of the Koran (see March 20, 2011) continue. Four days earlier, 15 people, including seven members of a United Nations mission, were killed in a violent protest against the Koran-burning (see April 1, 2011). Today, about 1,000 protesters gather in front of Kabul University, and other protests take place throughout Afghanistan. The Kabul demonstration is peaceful, local police say. Earlier protests have claimed lives, including but not limited to the UN murders. Two days ago, three people were killed in Kandahar when police fought with stone-throwing protesters. The day before that, nine people were killed in another Kandahar protest. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says of the Koran-burning and the violent protests in response: “The desecration of any holy text… is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry. However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.” [CNN, 4/5/2011] Less violent protests also take place in Pakistan. [Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
The government of Afghanistan says that the Pakistani government must have been aware of Osama bin Laden’s location prior to the US raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). Defense Ministry spokesperson General Mohammad Zahir Azimi says, “Not only Pakistan, with its strong intelligence service, but even a very weak government with a weak intelligence service would have known who was living in that house in such a location.” Relations are tense between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2008, the Afghan government blamed the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, for a role in a bombing in Kabul that killed 54 (see July 7, 2008). The US and other countries have also blamed the ISI for that bombing (see August 1, 2008). The Afghan government also complains in general that Pakistan is giving sanctuary to Taliban militants. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011]
Amrullah Saleh, head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, from 2004 to 2010, claims that the Pakistani government is hiding the top Taliban leaders. He says that he is certain Taliban top head Mullah Omar is hiding in a safe house in Karachi, Pakistan, run by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “He is protected by ISI. [ISI head Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple.” [Guardian, 5/5/2011] Saleh’s comments come shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan (see May 2, 2011).
A study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds that dozens of civilians have recently been killed in strikes by US drones in Pakistan. The study examined US drone strikes in Pakistan between August 23, 2010 and June 29, 2011 and uncovered at least 10 individual attacks in which 45 or more civilians appear to have died. There were a total of 116 attacks in this period. The Bureau says it has identified and can provide the family names for six children among those killed. According to the Bureau, at least 15 additional strikes warrant urgent investigation, with many more civilian deaths possible. The study was drafted in response to claims in June 2011 by President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan that “there hasn’t been a single collateral [civilian] death” in Pakistan since August 2010. The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan’s office, and asked for comment. Both declined. [Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 7/18/2011]
President Obama presents Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Medal of Honor. [Source: Reuters]President Obama presents Sergeant Dakota Meyer with the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions in combat against Pakistani insurgents (in some media accounts they are labelled simply as “Taliban”) in Ganjigal, Afghanistan (see September 8, 2009 and November 8, 2010). [New York Times, 9/15/2011]
The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, along with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival, releases a report, which concludes that the “war on terrorism” has resulted in around 1.3 million deaths. The study examined direct and indirect deaths caused by more than a decade of US-led war in three countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but did not include deaths in other countries attacked by American and allied military forces, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. To estimate the casualty figures, the investigators did a literature review of all the major studies that had been published on this topic before. The report estimates that “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan… this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths… could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.” [IPPNW, PSR, and PGS, 3/19/2015, pp. 15 ]
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